Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Creative Forum - George Ajjan

I think the Creative forum is an excellent initiative which Yazan brought to our attention on Syriaplanet. The first article I read there was one by George Ajjan an American businessman, political activist and member of the Republican party. I had many criticisms of his article which triggered a number of responses that you can read here. Something did occur to me throughout the discussion however, regarding the nature and overall direction of the debates that took place on that site.

Firstly, there seems to be an implicit assumption that the real issue began in 1967 (which it did not); Secondly, the direction of most of the comments gravitated around the obstacles to a two-state solution (in my opinion unworkable) and finally there is an implicit assumption that more secularisation (heavily qualified) is needed in the Arab countries.

Something is bugging me: I just don't know where to begin in addressing all these issues, but am I the only one who believes that there is something fundamentally wrong in this internationalist dialogue taking place? Is debate about the Middle East being hijacked by busy body Western liberals, naive activists working for ineffectual NGO's and self promoting Arab expatriates? I need to think about this but any recommendations or thoughts are welcome as always.



George Ajjan said...


Some of us "self promoting Arab expatriates" (although I'm not really an expatriate since my family left Syria beginning in 1913 with Ottoman documents) are attempting to correct the disastrous "Western political and military intervention in the Middle East".

The alternative is a بندوق like Frank Ghadry. Pick your poison.

Omar said...

This was exactly my first reaction to this forum. THANK YOU.. you gave me the stage to talk.
The idea of dialog is plausible, but when I saw that the forum was moderated by an American born with syrian origin (Ajjan) whose family left before Syria was even an independent entity (am not blaming or shaming here.. don't get me wrong) , and a native American lady who "likes" Syria and lives there (Palmer), and created by another (not even) expatriate born-outside-Syrian (Camille).. well this is when it felt a bit out of place.

I could understand the need to have something like this forum moderated cos I can imagine the fights and debates that would eventually take place.. and I could understand the need for the moderator to be located outside Syria for censorship issues.. but what I don't like is the presumption that there's a need to supervise or observe this dialog people who didn't "really" have to deal with the Syrian-Israeli conflict in their reality.. I just can't stand this velvet-wrapped free of charge aid of civilized westerner who should always be there to tell us how to solve our problems in a modern way.. while their presence was the origin of all these conflicts in the first place.

and after all, although this is against what I believe in.. maybe we don't want to talk to each other about that? we both know what the other wants.. and we all know that no one will approve what the other side would suggest.. so do we just talk to prove that we can wear a civilized mask and act in a "civilized" way? or for the sake of actually achieving something?

oof.. got it out of my chest..

Anonymous said...

Alright, let me try to explain:

The Creative Forum is something I had to come up with after many people wanted to participate in the Think Tank that I set up last year. So The Creative Forum is simply an open version of the Think Tank. So far 17 intelligent bloggers participated. I hope you do not reduce it to "an American who likes Syria, and a Camille who was not born in Syria"

For example, Rime Allaf will write tomorrow. Sami Moubayed and Ghayth Armanazi wrote too.

If my being not born in Syria (which is wrong by the way) is an indication that I do not have enough knowledge of that country, I assume that the 3000 hours I spent creating Creative Syria did not give you any indication that maybe I know a thing or two about Syria.

My father is a diplomat. I have been living Syrian politics and diplomacy since I was 12.

The reason I invited George and Elizabeth to be the moderators for the site are that they are both balanced people I trust and like, they are both independent enough not to be accused of siding with any of one Syrian direction or another... the Golan is only the first topic of discussion, there will be topics about economic reforms in Syria, about political reform ...etc. One each month.

Any Syrian I could have picked instead of George or Bridget, would have been biased in those debates.

And finally, George and Bridget are both excellent editors. The articles that we receive are not all well written. George edited them before they were published.

And did I tell you that George is veeeery smart? :)

Omar, this page is read by journalists and decision makers. I hope you can re-evaluate your initial impression or come up with something better.

Wassim: You are doing great in the discussion section. I don't think you went too far. The idea is to get people to talk honestly about all the issues. Trust me, there are analysts who read every single post and every single comment and they are finding them useful.


George Ajjan said...

Thanks Camille for your kind words. It's my pleasure to help out those who light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, as the saying goes.

Wassim said...

Firstly I must apologise to George, I certainly did not have you in mind when I spoke of "self promoting expatriates" in fact what I had in mind was precisely people like Ghadry. I'm sorry if it seemed to hit at a personal level though it seemed that way. I was just on a bit of a roll with the article and didn't qualify my last remarks. Again, no offense!

Wassim said...

Firstly I have to clarify, I myself have been born in Britain and certainly an "expatriate" but I challenge anybody to dismiss my Syrian Arab heritage. I'm much more that than British in mannerisms and upbringing. I feel your criticisms are a tad harsh, though I share your apprehension about the tone of the discussions on the site. Still, as I mentioned in my article I think the forum is an excellent idea and though I had criticisms about George's article, it was actually the subsequent discussion with others there which triggered my blog post.

Wassim said...

Camille, welcome and thank you!

George, lets light some more candles!

George Ajjan said...

!أهلا, أهلا

Wassim said...

I reread your comment and it's interesting your last comment about both sides knowing what they want. There is only one bone, you have it or you don't is the line of argument. Is that the case I wonder?

Omar said...

I reread my comment, it sounds harsh and I apologize if i offended anyone... this is not in my nature.. but i don't take back what i said.
don't get me wrong.. I am not dissing any non-syrian born syrians.. this everyone's country and all have equal rights to every single inch of it.. and I resent the notion that once you live outside the border you lose your right to consider it your country. if you look you will find that I myself, although born in Damascus, live in Canada now, which makes me no different from any of you.

however, my issue is with the whole arrangement..
so we talk an write letters.. so what? look at all these "cultural" dialogues between everyone after the danish cartoons incident.. what did it change? open minded people are still open minded and know better than behaving on stereotypes. and closed-minded people just shrugged the whole thing off and went on with their lives and their stereotypes they already believed in.. east and west never came closer.. they went further..

now note that I am not saying that there shouldn't be any dialog.. but what good will dialog do when it comes to returning the Golan heights? I mean, which of the two sides (governments) is ready to give up this bargening hand? and who in Israel and/or in Syria (people) is ready to change their views and collective memory of a long-lived conflict over a simple net form?

we've been living with slogans, ideologies and theories all our lives.. from baathists to marxists to trotskies to nationalists.. too many of them, enough to doubt that if governments reach common understandings and (hypothetically speaking) israel returns the golan heights to the Syrians then the people will just pretend that history didn't exist and start to live peacefully next to each other..

well, from a political correctness point of view, this is how things should work.... but will it really happen? will Sami mubayed's article and Rime's writing (which I hold with the highest of appreciation) really make some Israeli in a settlment wonder if he had the whole thing wrong from the beginning, and proceed then to vote against his government?

I am sorry.. but I am just tired of fluffy happy dreams that assume collective amnesia.. which is why I am critical of this project.. with all do respect to everyone involved.

but again, that's just me, and you asked what people thought.. that was my 2 cents which you can very well delete and ignore.. it was merely a night rant.

Alex said...

Dear Omar,

You are welcome to criticize the idea, don't worry if you sounded negative.

As you know, Haaretz already covered the Creative Forum in its opinion page. and we have over 1500 visits from Israel so far.

You can extend your logic to newspapers and claim that nothing written in newspapers will have an effect on the final status of the Golan heights ... so we should not bother reading newspapers and not bother participating in discussions on the Creative Forum or other sites or blogs.

When we have "democracy" in Syria (in 2050 probably:) we will have elected representatives debating these things in Parliament ... will you also tell them that it is useless to discuss the Golan Heights?


Yazan said...

Allow me to take a swing at you,
2050 is not long enough for Assad junior, we need much more time... because you know, they're just a really sensitive bunch, we should not pressure for reform, or democracy, or human rights, or any of that, u know, crap. ;)

[Am very sorry, I could not resist it, Rime hasnt posted anything in a while, and I am frustrated about a trillion other things, not the least whats happening in Nahr el-Bared, so I had to get this one out...]

Alex said...


That was a joke Yazan.

I am still hoping for a serious improvement within 5-10 years from now